Storied Bon Soir Niterie Reopens with Turn by Talented Faux-Barbra
by Mark Dundas Wood, Wednesday, June 6, 2012
The Bon Soir, back in its heyday.
In Intimate Nights, his 1991 book on the history of New York cabaret, writer James Gavin described the celebrated (some would say notorious) Bon Soir nightclub:
“[The] fabled café opened on September 6, 1949, in a basement on 40 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Much of the Bon Soir’s appeal came from its out-of-the-way, almost illicit feeling. A walk down thirty-one steps led to a square black room owned and run by the Mafia, where blacks and whites, gays and straights mingled without a trace of tension. On one side of the room was a gay bar. Those seeking a highbrow atmosphere had to look elsewhere.”
Among the entertainers who performed at the plaster-walled club were Phyllis Diller, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, and Larry Storch. But the Bon Soir is best remembered for the early performances of Barbra Streisand between 1960 and 1962. The nightclub closed in 1967, after hobbling along with performances by mediocre Borscht Belt-style performers. Streisand, meanwhile, had moved uptown to Broadway—en route to Malibu.
Last week, Simply-Showbiz.com reported that Streisand fans had been thrown for a loop with reports that the Bon Soir was reopening and that Barbra Streisand herself would be singing there on Monday, June 4. The news was only partly true. The “square black room” that Gavin described has in fact been refurbished. It’s part of the new locale for a club called The Pink Elephant. But the woman who reopened the room was not Streisand but rather a young singer named Carla DelVillaggio, who impersonates the mega-diva.
“Je m’appelle Carla.”
I attended the second show on Monday thanks to an invitation extended to Sinply-Showbiz.com by the show’s producer, Chip Duckett. My companion and I descended a dizzyingly lit staircase down to a small bar area where customers drank a grapefruit-based concoction called—what else?—a Bon Soir. These beverages were served by tall, elegant and stunningly beautiful young women.
Just before 9:30 audience members were ushered into the refurbished room. The bright, elephant-pink tablecloths on the small tables and the soft pink lights projected on the bottles behind the bar may have suggested the 1960s, but a 1970s influence was also evident, most notably in the form of a DJ booth and a large Deco-ish fixture that seemed to be a modified disco ball.
The following day I spoke with Duckett, who told me that—at least for now—the Bon Soir will function as a cabaret only on certain nights (notably, Mondays) and that the audiences for its shows will mostly be invited guests. There won’t be long engagements by headliners. Instead, for the time being, the space will feature special one-off events.
As for Carla DelVillaggio, she is a slight young woman with more than a passing resemblance to Streisand. On Monday she dressed in a recreation of Streisand’s ultramarine-blue sailor dress, accented with a bright red bow. DelVillaggio has the Barbra shrug down pat, and is especially adept at recreating the infectious Barbra giggle. She proved deft also at coping with shouted comments from a raucous, liquor-lubed audience–including one notably crude remark having to do with Funny Girl composer Jule Styne.
DelVillaggio sang a string of early songs from the Streisand repertoire, including “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?” and “When Sunny Gets Blue” (the latter featuring a lovely solo turn by pianist Rich Siegel). DelVillaggio demonstrated a spooky ability to channel the icon—at times you would swear you were seeing a hologram of a teenage Streisand. DelVillaggio even captured the star’s particular way of narrowing her eyes while singing, during moments of intense concentration.
Did she sound like Streisand? Yes. When she talked, that is. DelVillaggio has a pleasant and expressive singing voice. But nobody has ever quite been able to capture the peculiarly raw yet crystalline sound of Streisand at 19 or 20—not even the more seasoned Streisand herself at 33 or 34. But that doesn’t mean the show wasn’t a good one. It was highly entertaining, and people seemed to go away happy. Duckett bubbled with excitement.
The follow-up? Next Monday at the Bon Soir will be a concert (and EP release celebration) for Broadway performer Matt Doyle of Broadway’s Spring Awakening. And in July DelVilaggio will have an engagement at the Laurie Beechman Theater in midtown Manhattan, performing three different programs of Streisand music.